Mike Fitchett’s boys came up just short in the gold medal game featuring New Zealand and Australia at the FIBA U16 Oceania champoinship final in Wellington.
New Zealand trailed by as many as 15 points in the middle of the third period and were still 10 points down in the fourth quarter before making a late charge that ultimately came up short, Australia winning 91-86. Australia therefore progressing to the FIBA Under 17 World Championships in July 2016.
Waikato guard Hamish McDonald nabbed an offensive rebound and score to give New Zealand an early lead but Australia scored their first 9 points from beyond the three-point arc, all from Dragan Elkaz, to give them a 20-18 first quarter advantage.
Australia extended their lead with a 6-0 run to open the second quarter and dominated the period to lead 42-32 at half time, converting a very useful 5 from 12 threes (42%) in the process. Elkaz led all scorers with 15 points ably supported by Tom Fullarton (11pts). McDonald led the Kiwi effort with 9 points.
New Zealand enjoyed a 9-0 run in the middle of the third period as Clinton and McDonald found their range. Australia weathered the storm and still held sway at the end of the quarter 64-56.
The impressive Quinn Clinton made a triple to open the third quarter and the lead narrowed to three when Waardenburg made a pair of free throws but Australia responded with a 7-0 run to open up a 71-61 lead with eight minutes to play. Clinton and Waardenburg kept chipping away as did McDonald and when Dan Fotu scored with three minutes to play Australia’s lead was just 82-79
A massive three from Patrick Bines gave Australia an 85-79 lead with 59 seconds to play and as hard as they could, McDonald nailed another three, Fotu made a fade away, the clock became the Kiwi’s enemy. Australia made their free throws down the stretch to close out the win 91-86.
There were fine individual performances in both camps. For New Zealand Clinton led all scorers with 28 points and added 5 rebounds, 4 assists and 3 steals. McDonald contributed 18 points and Sam Waardenburg, although carrying a leg injury, made a double double of 15 points and 10 rebounds.
Australia got good value out of Elkaz with 20 points (4/73PG), Fullarton (17pts) and Matthew Johns (15pts).
New Zealand coach Mike Fitchett was philosophical in defeat.
“We couldn’t keep our composure under the Aussies pressure. I’m proud of the boys for staying in the game and fighting until the end. There is a bright future for this group.”